Monday, November 7, 2016

Heart of Darkness and other stories

Heart of darkness consists of three stories.
Each story revolves around travelling by ship. In a way Joseph Conrad would be a great attribute to promote traveling by boat.
There is just no way one can read his stories and not be mesmerized by the slow sway of a ship in uncharted waters.


The first story in this bundle, is a very short one. As long as the years our narrator has acquired, he tells you the story of his first journey being second in command.
It's a journey riddled with danger and bad luck, as the ship seems to encounter just about everything that can go wrong.
But it's the stubborn way of dealing with the ship's flaws that make this an interesting story. He will and must find a way to reach the East, as it would be the first time he would set foot on this continent. Even with a ship on fire he doesn't hesitate to reach his goal.

A quite remarkable story that leaves you bewildered that this kind of subject even can be made interesting. But still, even though it seems very basic in structure, the atmosphere on board this ship is something to reckon with. It pulls you into the story very quickly and leave you quite unsatisfied with the ending, as all journey's must come to an end.

But in this case it's to embark on a second journey, one to a region I'm quite familiar with. Not in person, mind me, but in a literary way.
As you might remember or not, a little while back I read a book called Congo by David Van Reybrouck, which is a nonfictional account of the colonization of Congo, a region in Africa.

Heart of Darkness

In this story our narrator, being someone completely different than the narrator of the first story, takes us on a trip along the mystical river that runs through that the heart of a vast region of Africa and which bears the same name, Congo. Therein lays the inspiration for its title.

In manner and opinion this narrator is very firm, strict and prone to squeamishness. He's unfamiliar with the region and its environment and complains a lot about his predicament, which is painted starkly against the suffering of the tribes.
As his objective is to retrieve a certain Kurtz, who is sending more ivory from his vantage point than any other settlement there, but doing so in a slightly disturbing way to the nature of his employers, our narrator is slowly turning his mind around.
As fascinated as he is by this immense legend, his trials to finally reach the man himself have left scars on him as well.
When at last they meet, it leaves an permanent mark on him.

I found this quite a difficult story to get through. It's filled with a lot of self-contemplation which in a way is necessary because while we travel on that infamous river, penetrating the heart of darkness, it's both on that river and deep in the mind of our narrator that we follow this wretched path.
It doesn't have the ingredients for smooth reading and I often had to reread certain parts because I felt like I had skipped some of it.
The story in itself wasn't quite that remarkable either, I had expected more of it. It didn't strike me as much as horror as I had anticipated. It does have that 18th century grasp of not knowing what will come next, the eternal mists that hang about anything. But it left me hanging, in the end.

In my opinion, this recollection of stories should have gone by a different title.. The End Of The Tether and other stories.  Which seamlessly leads me to the third and last story in this novel.

The End of the Tether

A marvelous story and by far the best of the three. I'm glad it came last, because I now have a very good opinion of Joseph Conrad.

It's a story about a captain, Captain Whalley, who is at the end of his career of commandeering. Being succesful his entire life, he's suffered a financial loss which leaves him with dire choices when his only daughter begs him for a little money.
He sells his own ship, only to reinvest a little of the money into a ship owned by the engineer. For a period of three years, Captain Whalley will commandeer this ship, while Mr Massy, the engineer, will make sure it runs smoothly.
Massy is addicted to lottery games however and invests every single penny into the game, hating Whalley for not investing more than he did. He's constantly suspecting Whalley of having more money and of getting the better of him.
With the end of the three year contract in sight, which will force him to give the investment back, Massy is nervously trying to find a way out.

What he doesn't know is that Captain Whalley has a predicament of his own. While he has been a terrific captain even on the monotonous travels of the mail boat he now runs, his sight has come to betray him.
He tries to deceive everyone, because he will lose his investment if it was known he couldn't perform his duty as captain anymore. He risks everything for the sake of his daughter, who would be the sole beneficiary of his money.

Ultimately it plays out in a battle of wits, with a very final ending.

This story I found utterly satisfying, from beginning to end. It kept me entranced, interested and fascinated by each and every character. I'm not a fan of short stories, but this story had everything it needed. It didn't lack anything, not even more pages.
Like I said already, the best story out of the three.
I loved how devoted Whalley was to his daughter. I loved the innocently crooked ways of Sterne, desperately trying to climb up the ladder. I loved how revolting Massy was to everyone, but himself. I even loved the steady rumble of the ship going its way.
No matter what you're reading about, if the author is able to make you feel like you are right there beside the characters, he's got a talent to be reckoned with.